Ingesting a snack at The Scholarly Kitchen has my own association-minded ideas baking. Robert Harington’s post, The Role of Scholarly Societies, is a positive outlook on the future functions and responsibilities of academic publishing, with so many applications to the community of association publishing. (My disclaimer is this: I work for Sheridan, and I have a vested interest in seeing association publishers succeed.)
Although trade associations are faced with some dramatically dissimilar problems, just like scholarly societies they host conferences and events, manage committees and recruit new members, offer educational opportunities and mentoring programs, participate in advocacy, and recognize excellence in their fields.
Revenue aside, dwindling membership continues to be a significant issue. How can we show that we add real value? How can we connect with a younger audience? How can we recruit active veterans in the industry?
Associations now have to compete against aggressive, non-traditional content creators: creative marketers of brands who have reinvented themselves as consumer resources. As a construction association, you may be seeing manufacturers offering not just installment instructions anymore, but an online forum where contractors can discuss their projects and share tips. As a medical association, you may be seeing pharmaceutical companies offering tailored nutritional plans and support for dealing with disease. Why join an association when the content of these other resources is free and easily accessible on the internet? It’s no longer enough for an association to publish a magazine as a member benefit and host a digital replication online.
What Robert states as the role for societies to partner with members is likewise the role of associations to foster a dynamic community for that brings members’ ideas together. We have to evolve to stay connected with members through all communication channels—the publication, emails and newsletters, and social media (yes, you do have to do this). Where the publication was once the meat and potatoes, now a macrocosmic communication strategy and vision is required to bring a soup-to-nuts experience, which should be unique to the demographics of each organization.
The role of an association today is more than just creating good content and sending it out: it’s creating a community for your members where all of these resources come together, giving them the tools to succeed, and supporting them every step of the way. It’s thinking like a marketing expert that will help your association not just attract new members, but make membership a resource vital to their careers. So while association methods and vision may evolve, the role of the association remains one of providing unique value to its members.
Speaking of valuable resources, The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) offers a wealth of information on building stronger organizations. Check out this quick post from their site, titled Communicate Value, Increase Membership.
And how about this bold and brilliant association maneuver – Increase your association membership renewal rate. What?? Read on – there’s solid logic here that actually supports the value you place on membership.
I’ll leave you with one final creative nugget – a little light-hearted and kind of Zen – and worthy of busy association leader’s time: If Your Organization Doesn’t Increase Membership After Reading This Article, You Have My Permission to Beat Me With a Ball Peen Hammer, from Scott Ginsberg, That Guy with the Nametag.
Here’s to stronger associations!